The third day of the Police Review Board hearing Carrie Low’s complaint against a Halifax cop and the Halifax Regional Police started with a stunning statement from witness Jerell Smith.
“I’m fearful of my safety,” said Smith. “I’ve been criminally harassed by members of the RCMP. I’ve been criminally harassed by members of the. Halifax Regional Police. And I’ve been criminally harassed by members of the Halifax Police Board. I’m fearful to be here today to testify.”
At the time of the sexual assault of Low, Smith, an RCMP cop, was a member of the Sexual Assault Investigation Team (SAIT), which is staffed by officers from both the Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP. Smith was assigned to Low’s file. He was subpoenaed to testify before the review board.
Smith went on to allege that someone with the Halifax police department gave the process server his parents’ address, and that the process server falsely represented himself as a police officer. Smith said he filed a criminal complaint about the process server.
“I’m fearful of this board; I’m fearful of the people involved in this situation today,” Smith said, stating that he was refusing to testify.
Board chair Jean McKenna then reviewed the paperwork related to the subpoena, noting that everything was in order. McKenna said the issue around the credentials of the process server might be under investigation, but a process server doesn’t need to be law enforcement, so that was immaterial to the validity of the subpoena. This seemed to satisfy Smith; he said he had made public his concerns about his safety, and so he would testify anyway.
Told to close the file
Low was assaulted in the early hours of May 19, 2018, and showed up at Dartmouth General Hospital later that day. This was the Victoria Day three-day holiday weekend. When Smith showed up to work at 7am on Tuesday, May 22, he was assigned the Low file.
Smith testified that he was told by Staff Sergeant Donnie Stienburg that Low was lying about the sexual assault, and that Smith should close the file.
Stienburg “told me that she was wearing an all-black dress and that she was seen in a crowd of people,” said Smith. “HRP had responded to a fight complaint at the bar, at Dave Doolittle’s, and that [Low] had indicated that she was kidnapped, but the police had evidence that she was [later] captured wearing a black dress in this video that this officer took.”
“He was using that as evidence that Ms. Low was lying, that she falsified her complaint,” explained Smith. “He was saying that, again, Ms. Low had told police that she left the bar at a certain time and what I was told by Donnie is that there was video evidence to support that she was actually there at the bar, on a video by this police officer at this other call that was a fight disturbance. And that was the reason to close the file.”
Stienburg had a sergeant at the Halifax Regional Police email the video clip to Smith; Smith said he received that email, but the link to the video didn’t work.
Smith said he looked at the police file on the incident, and it had only the location of Doolittle’s on Tacoma Drive.
He then called Low, who was at work, and they arranged for a proper interview later that evening, when she got off work. Smith said it went against his understanding of how to conduct a trauma-informed interview, but he was curious about the dress, so over the phone he asked Low what she was wearing that night. Low became “quite upset,” but “she indicated that she was wearing all white.”
Smith testified that he went to the bar and obtained video surveillance from the night in question, and watching the video, he saw Low hanging out with friends and dancing, “wearing all white. She was wearing a white blazer jacket, I believe a white blouse, white pants, possibly even white shoes, if I recall.”
On the video, said Smith, Low is seen dancing and hanging out with friends, and leaving the bar at around 12:15am.
When he met in person with Low later that day, she told him she had been taken to a trailer in East Preston, and even had an address for it, as she had taken a cab home. She also said that her panties and a shoe were left at that scene. That was the first Smith had heard about a second location associated with the incident.
That’s also when Smith learned that while at the hospital on May 19, Low had been given an evidence bag to take home with her to put the clothes she was wearing into, and that Low had taken the bag of clothes to her parents’ house, but police never picked it up.
Low additionally showed Smith a text exchange she had with a man named Brent Julien.
Smith reviewed the bar video again, and saw both Julien and a second man, Alexander Thomas, at Doolittle’s. Smith knew both men, and was able to associate Thomas with the East Preston trailer.
Smith testified that he was to go on vacation later that week, and he was busy with another case as well, so he asked that the Low file be reassigned to another investigator. He said he was told that Sergeant Steve McCormack would take the file. Smith said he told McCormack that someone needed to pick up the evidence bag with clothes in it that Low had left at her parents’ house.
When Smith returned from vacation, he found a series of voice messages left by Low, who was distraught and angry that no one had followed up on the case.
“So I went to speak with Steve McCormack, to ask him what had happened when I was gone,” said Smith. “And he just kind of gave a smirk.”
Smith said he was told by his supervisor, Linda Gray, that he was not to contact or speak with Low.
“She showed me a letter written by Halifax Regional Police, I don’t know his title, Jim Perrin… it was basically what I would call an attempt to mislead Ms. Low. She was told that this was not an HRP matter, and that it was an RCMP file, and she was to make her complaints to the RCMP.”
Gray told Smith that “Staff Sergeant Stienburg had had a conversation with Ms. Low, who had attempted to make a complaint about the initial officers that were involved,” continued Smith. “And Donnie [Stienburg] had told her again, this was an RCMP matter and that she could only make complaints against RCMP officers and directed her to make a complaint against me for the initial handling of the investigation. So that’s what I was told by Linda. And then she told me that there’s a public complaint. I was given a copy of it and told that I’m not to worry about it because RCMP handle complaints internally… it was for information purposes. It was not an actual complaint of our behaviour within the institution.”
Smith alleges police documents were altered
During his testimony, Smith was shown an exhibit book that included over 300 pages of police documents, including entries in the police Versadex system.
But Smith made a startling accusation: “The documents have been changed.” Smith said documents purporting to be entered into the system by Smith had other investigators listed as the author in the Versadex system, as seen by the metadata on the files, which had been printed out and were included in the exhibit book.
Smith attempted several times to show that the documents were altered; he was initially ignored, but kept returning to the issue.
“A person who wasn’t even in the [SAIT] unit at this time is somehow on this file.”
One document listed Sergeant Brian Fitzpatrick as the “lead investigator” on the Carrie Low file, said Smith, but at the time, Fitzpatrick was working for the RCMP in another province. “I’ve never met Brian Fitzpatrick. At the time, he was not in our unit, and he was not the lead investigator.”
Fitzpatrick is now with the SAIT, and he is the lead investigator in Operation Headwind, the RCMP investigation into sexual assault at the Nova Scotia Youth Centre, which was made public by the RCMP yesterday. If Smith’s allegation that Fitzpatrick was inappropriately and retroactively changing Smith’s entries into Versadex, it will call into question the integrity of both Fitzpatrick and Operation Headwind.
“Like I said,” continued Smith, “this document, in my opinion, has been tampered with. So the documentation and the report that I have here Is not the same report that was shown to me two months ago when I met with [the Crown] in regards to Ms. Low’s criminal complaint. This was not what was presented in front of me or, in emails back and forth with the Crown, including I believe the director, Michael Scott… the reports that I presented were, you know, changed, by whoever.”
Smith added that another document was purported to be written by him, but the author according to the Versadex system was named as Kevin Smith, a staff sergeant with the HRP — “Kevin Smith, not Jerell Smith,” said Smith. “This document was written by me, but was altered on Tuesday, January 28, 2020, by Kevin Smith” — almost three years after Jerell Smith originally wrote it.
The significance of Smith’s statements was not lost of board chair Jean McKenna.
“These are profound allegations,” said McKenna. “These are very, very serious allegations.”
The hearing continues Monday.